Pope Francis used an Easter Sunday message to call for “reconciliation” between Palestinians and Israelis, after recent clashes in the Gaza Strip left more than a dozen people dead.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics celebrated Easter, the most important feast day in the Christian calendar, which recalls the resurrection of Christ, from a sunny St Peter’s Square in Rome.
“We beseech fruits of reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless,” the pontiff said, using a term that loosely describes modern-day Israel, southern Lebanon, western Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
At least 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops during a mass protest in the Gaza Strip on Friday. Israeli officials accused the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza of engaging in deliberate provocations as thousands of Palestinians marched on Gaza’s border with Israel.
In his traditional Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) message and blessing, Francis “implore[d] fruits of peace upon the entire world.”
He mentioned “the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria,” as well as Yemen, the wider Middle East, Ukraine, Venezuela, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Korean Peninsula.
“May those who are directly responsible act with wisdom and discernment to promote the good of the Korean people and to build relationships of trust within the international community,” he said.
Francis invoked divine protection for migrants, victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, children for the elderly, and had a special message for politicians.
“May they always respect human dignity, devote themselves actively to the pursuit of the common good, and ensure the development and security of their own citizens,” he said.
The Urbi et Orbi, which also offers a pardon for sins, is delivered at Easter, Christmas and after the election of a new pope. On Sunday, it was preceded by a solemn open-air Easter Mass.
St Peter’s Square was decorated with 50,000 Dutch plants and flowers, including 13,500 daffodils, 20,000 tulips and 3,500 roses for a service featuring Latin and Greek readings from the Gospel.
Amid tight security, some 80,000 people attended the service, according to Italian police estimates. Dozens of cardinals and bishops and other high-ranking priests were present.
Italy has been on edge following a spate of anti-terrorism arrests and reports that Islamists have singled out Rome as a target. Some 10,000 police have been deployed to boost security in the capital.
Security checks for pilgrims flocking to St Peter’s Square created long queues, and traffic was restricted in a wider-than-normal perimeters around the Vatican, the ANSA news agency said.
Sunday brought to an end a packed schedule of solemn ceremonies for the 81-year-old Francis, who has recently revealed he needs to under go cataract surgery.
On Saturday, he celebrated a night-time Mass in St Peter’s in which he baptised eight adults, including a Nigerian asylum-seeker hailed as a hero in Italy for helping foil a robbery last year.
On Friday he presided over the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at the Colosseum, and on Thursday he washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates in a Rome prison.